Taking the train to [Unnamed Ancient Kingdom] is an unforgettable experience. The train slices through markets, runs a few feet from thatched roof huts and rumbles and bucks back in time. The train track is so uneven, we spend half the time suspended in weightlessness and wonder how the cars don’t get derailed. As the distance to the city increased the scenery changes to water buffalo dragging plows, oxen pulling carts and farmers working fields of rice and other crops.
Like volleyball, using your feet instead of hands. Prior experience in kick-boxing should help.
1) Spend three days looking for the most crisp US dollar notes you can find in Malaysia.
2) Exchange your US dollar traveler’s checks into Ringgit and Ringgit back into said US dollar notes.
3) Once in Myanmar carefully iron your dollar bills to take out any wrinkles as they are made from cotton but don’t have a care label.
4) Talk to a certain recommended travel agent.
5) Go to the good friend of the travel agent, the respected station master.
6) The helpful station master sends you behind the counter with the ticket master.
7) The ticket master realizes that you don’t want to leave today, so he directs you to the official travel office because only they can issue a ticket for tomorrow.
8) The official travel office is not where the map thinks it is, but the other travel office next to where it should be, sends you to the building across the park.
9) You go around the park because crossing the park requires a fee for foreign visitors.
10) At the official travel office, which has very friendly staff in spite of what you read in your travel guide, you get a hand-drawn map showing you that there is a ticket office behind the train station.
11) At the the ticket office, locate the right window from about twenty-five (25) options carefully labeled with letters that you can’t read. You will choose the wrong window at least three times. Each time a clerk will dribble out part of their bright red wad of betel nut as you are directed in the general direction of your next incorrect choice.
12) Explain your choice of ticket to the clerk while fending off an annoying tout offering unsolicited advice.
13) Convince clerk that your carefully ironed dollar bills are legal tender.
14) Clerk will go to supervisor to have your carefully ironed dollar bills refused.
15) Wander the streets in search of Indian money changer who was offering his services when you walked to the train station.
16) You will not find him but run into the annoying tout. Tell him you didn’t get the ticket because your dollar bills were not accepted.
17) Annoying tout turns into helpful fixer and takes you to a friend who can exchange good dollar bills into perfect dollar bills for a 5.5 % fee.
18) Sit down on little plastic chairs in the tiny store front and negotiate transaction with the translation services of betel nut dribbling friendly tout.
19) After you change your money you will encounter the Indian money changer who gives you the stink-eye because you didn’t work with him.
20) Run back to ticket office behind the train station because it is now closed but friendly tout knows a way around the gate.
21) The ticket clerk knows the helpful fixer which may or may not be a good thing.
22) Ticket clerk examines your perfect dollar bills carefully and finishes hand-written ticket from before.
23) The condition of the newly hand-written ticket does not compare favorably to the perfect dollar bills you just handed over.
24) The helpful fixer who you have since compensated for his services will repeat for the 17th time, “Don’t worry. Be happy” as you part your ways dodging traffic.
© Photos: Traveline
Around four the afternoon turns golden and the streets start teeming with people that previously were hiding from the merciless heat. The sun drops like a stone and it is completely dark before the fresh smell of a pre-dusk application of DEET has worn off. For many, homework, dinner, a chat with friends, takes place in the public space; air-con is not a standard, and electrical power not a given. At night, entire townships go dark, making stars visible in the sky above this city of five million.
I’ve been everywhere, man.
I’ve been everywhere, man.
Crossed the desert’s bare, man.
I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I’ve had my share, man.
I’ve been everywhere.
– Johnny Cash
It’s not true, not even remotely, but the song keeps popping into Cranky’s head as they float through the city.
Obtaining a visa for our ten day excursion to [unnamed country] required some sightseeing in one of Kuala Lumpur’s embassy neighborhoods. This ‘hood is not quite as quaint you would hope but after we stumbled into some friendly people at a batique art school we did eventually find the right location. The embassy grounds are rather humble compared to Nigeria a couple of doors down. Nevertheless we must salute a government that doesn’t waste its people’s money on pompous foreign consulary facilities. After three visits, two passport pictures, an express fee and a stern lecture that the express option may only be used at the discretion of the residing embassy staff, we got our stamps in time for the flight the next morning.
We have met the enemy and he is us.
– Walt Kelly
The central dilemma for the individualistic traveler is to find a place that has been discovered just the right amount. It should offer a way to get there and a bed for rent. Once you have found it, don’t tell anybody, don’t blog about it, don’t take pictures and don’t make any locals rich. If the place is mentioned in more than one sentence in your travel guide, it is probably too late. If your book mentions the words “over-developed”, pay attention. Don’t go. You will turn around in less than a day as we did today.
The perfect street to spend a night or three in Phuket old town. Kind Wut will take you in and feed you delicacies from across the street for breakfast. You savor while groups of girls strike glamorous poses for photos in front of each and every antique doorway.
At night you enjoy another drink at Glasnost next door and as the visitors fade away you think to yourself “I belong here!”. The neighborhood dog comes wagging and gives you an approving sniff.
On this full moon, a little float, made of banana tree trunk, flowers, a candle and a snippet of your hair will take your grudges away and give you a fresh start. If you like you can send off your old ghosts in a hot air balloon.